If I'm going to call writer-director-star Jennifer Westfeldt's film Friends With Kids an inaccurate picture of parenting, then I should probably fess up: I don't have any kids. But almost all of my friends have children, and their experiences haven't turned them into bridge trolls or filled them with regret. Like most parents, they love their kids, but sometimes they need to get away from them, too. (Case in point: When my wife and I recently visited our friend who's also a single mom, she drove us around town aimlessly for 10 minutes after we finished dinner because she had already paid the babysitter for three hours and wanted to get her money's worth.) Unfortunately, there's hardly room for this fascinating strain of parental ambivalence in this busy but deeply conservative film.
Aside from one toddler's bout of diarrhea, most of Friends With Kids is fairly sanitary. Westfeldt and Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott play Manhattan professionals in their late 30s who decide to have a child and raise it with the same ease and care a kindergartner might raise a seed planted in a Styrofoam egg carton. The way they see it, if they aren't married, then they're free to date other people yet still participate in the joys of child-raising. Problems with this arrangement arise after a year or so, but they have much more to do with Scott and Westfeldt's romantic entanglements than with the constant pressures of raising little kids.
As an actress, Westfeldt is plasticine and inexpressive; I kept wondering how Kristen Wiig, who is barely present in the film, might have played the part. And Jon Hamm, Westfeldt's long-time off-screen partner, is even more wooden in his role. (Perhaps ultra-suave Don Draper is the only role Hamm can play). Maya Rudolph, meanwhile, continues to grow and thrive as a big-screen ensemble player. She shares some feisty scenes with Chris O'Dowd, who rolls out a droll and appealing version of a clueless husband.
Just like her nervous, talky screen presence, Westfeldt the director doesn't know when to let things be. She tends to underline things visually; it's not enough for her to show Scott's reaction when Westfeldt's handsome date (Edward Burns) arrives at her apartment and takes a liking to their kid. She has to cut back to Scott's face three times to make sure everyone gets the point.
The key to Friends With Kids might be found in the multiple games of "Would You Rather" ("Would you rather be eaten by a shark or a crocodile?") that Scott and Westfeldt play with each other throughout the film. This motif is especially revealing, because it mirrors several other either/or scenarios on display. Either you're childless and happy or saddled with kids and miserable. Either you want kids or you're a selfish weirdo. Either you are unhappy and alone or you are in a stable, conventional relationship WITH A CHILD. I may not have kids, but I know life isn't that simple.
Friends With Kids
Studio on the Square